Has the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of car accident fatalities?

U.S. motor vehicle fatalities, on a downward trend since 2016, are on track to increase this year despite a slowdown in overall mobility brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The surprising agency data, recently released, could provide more context in understanding how many ways the coronavirus pandemic has affected daily life. 

The number of people driving motor vehicles appears to have declined significantly during the coronavirus pandemic.  A June 2020 consumer survey by research firm McKinsey & Company states that about 60% of U.S. respondents said they traveled less during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it may be reasonable to think that fewer cars on the road would lead to fewer traffic deaths, recent data is showing fatalities from car crashes heading in a different direction. In fact, quarantines and lockdowns did not appear to damper the volume of car accidents resulting in deaths.

Preliminary data released by The National Safety Council shows a striking increase in traffic fatalities for motor vehicles in 2020, despite the reduced driving brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing lockdown. 

How Many Traffic Deaths Occurred Despite Pandemic Shutdowns?

By the NSC's mark, 2020 is shaping up to be much deadlier for auto accidents than last year. The monthly mileage death rate jumped 26.1% in July 2020 compared to July 2019, according to the NSC, as fatality rates spiked despite the drop in miles driven. Per 100 million vehicle miles driven, the mileage death rate in July 2020 was 1.50, compared to 1.19 in 2019, the nonprofit found. 

“Because of COVID-19-related impacts, the number of miles driven in the first seven months of 2020 decreased 15.7% compared to 2019,” the NSC reported. “The number of miles driven in July 2020 decreased 11.2% compared to July 2019." Yet the nonprofit's research division is reporting deaths to-date in 2020 totaling 22,100, up 2% compared to the first seven months of 2019. 

Particularly, July 2020 marked 3930 motor vehicle deaths, an 11% jump compared to July 2019.  

During the first five months of 2020, states with the highest rates of deadly car crashes included New Hampshire, Connecticut, North Carolina and Louisiana. Meanwhile Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida and Michigan had among the safest roadways, recording the lowest rates of traffic fatalities.

Without this latest spike in fatalities, the U.S. could have achieved nearly four years of improved road safety. The car accident fatality rate had declined since 2016, when nearly 38,000 died, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Early estimates from  NHTSA reveal that 36,120 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2019, a 1.2% decline from 2018 when 36,560 fatalities were recorded. NHTSA has not yet released car accident injury figures for 2019, but it's 2018 figures show nearly 1.9 million car accidents resulting in personal injury. NHTSA said it would release final 2019 numbers and first-quarter 2020 estimates on traffic accidents in the spring. 

Going forward, mobility is on the rebound. More cars are expected to take to the road in the United States and across the world following the coronavirus pandemic, according to McKinsey. One-half of respondents said they were likely to increase their use of private vehicles as a means of intercity travel, displacing public transportation, air travel and railroad. A major reason for this preference cited by consumers is the element of social distancing  offered by private cars. Social distancing and mask-wearing have been valuable strategies to avoid infection during the COVID-19 outbreak post-lockdown.

McKinsey's study sheds light on another key variable in pondering the future of road safety post-COVID-19: the rising popularity of autonomous vehicles. About one-third of consumers surveyed by McKinsey reported that they  valued autonomous driving more highly now than before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Car Crashes a Chief Concern As Employees Head to Work Post-Pandemic 

As the COVID-19 pandemic pushes consumers to private vehicles and expiring shelter-in-place orders create more congested roadways, car crashes are front of mind for the United States as the country gets back to business.

In anticipation of employees returning to work following coronavirus lockdowns, the NSC in July issued a "return-to-work" guidance for employers, with recommendations on how to address transportation options and roadway safety. Car accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, NSC CEO Lorraine M. Martin said in a statement about the guidebook. 

Recommendations include offering incentives to employees who wish to explore new modes of transportation; providing additional services like dedicated parking, shuttle services and flexible work-from-home policies; acknowledging that employees may be returning to work in a state of "unusual stress or exhaustion" and that they may "have fallen out of the practice of operating their vehicles because of shelter-in-place orders." 

If you have suffered an injury as a result of a car accident, contact a personal injury lawyer at the Rothenberg Law Firm LLP about your options, as you may be eligible to seek compensation for your injuries.

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